WINTER GARDEN Four quarters.
That is what the season has come down to for both the West Orange Warriors and the Wekiva Mustangs.
When the two teams meet at Raymond Screws Field at 7 p.m. Thursday, they will be playing for a berth in the FHSAA Class 8A State Playoffs. Tied at 1-1, respectively, within Class 8A’s District 4, the winner of Thursday’s game will clinch runner-up in the four-team district and the road playoff game that comes with it.
Although the teams share district records and ultimately find themselves in the same situation, the respective narratives surrounding the teams are quite distinct.
For the Warriors (2-5, 1-1), Thursday’s game is an opportunity to offset what has been a brutal season. West Orange ended a five-game losing streak Oct. 13 when it beat Evans in its district opener, but before that, the Warriors had lost those five games by an average of 35 points per loss.
At the same time, West Orange’s biggest problem — inexperience — has seemed to curb a bit as the Warriors looked improved against Jones and Apopka and blew out Evans 48-0. Moreover, West Orange has arguably the best player on the field — senior quarterback Austin Burton, a UCLA commit — which puts the Warriors in a position to earn a fourth consecutive playoff appearance.
“The way the system is set up, if we win two games, we’re in,” head coach Bob Head said. “That’s all our focus is.”
If West Orange’s struggles provide for an unexpected narrative given the Warriors were a state semifinalist in 2015, then the story for Wekiva (5-3, 1-1) is a wholly different kind of surprise.
With the departure of coach Kenard Lang and a wave of transfers in the offseason, the Mustangs’ stock looked to be in freefall.
However, former Edgewater coach Rich Bedesem has stepped in and invigorated the program almost immediately. Starting with a 35-7 win over then-favored Winter Park Sept. 23, the Mustangs have won three of their past four games and the only loss of those came in a 38-31 thriller to the undefeated Apopka Blue Darters (8-0, 2-0 district).
Wekiva’s defense allows just 16 points per game and running back Jaylon Fair has bruised his way through opposing defenses all season long.
The winner of Thursday’s game will travel to Winter Park for the Class 8A, Region 1 Quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Nov. 11.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].